Breaking down on stage is risky business. Sometimes, when emotions take over, things get real and the line between show business and real-life gets blurred. But we expect musicians to be passionate, and it can be a beautiful thing, a raw display of something bigger than entertainment. Other times, things like rage, drugs, and borderline insanity can turn things sour with the quickness. “Professionalism” in the music world is hard to define, but one thing is for sure: there are always going to be times when things don’t go as planned, and when musicians get on stage and the situation sparks a meltdown, it can make for some of the most unexpectedly entertaining and impactful moments that we could have never anticipated.
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Axl Rose Attacks A Picture-Taking Fan
Apparently during this ’91 show in St. Louis, Axl Rose didn’t want his picture to be taken. Someone in the audience took his picture. Axl pointed out the guy and said, “Get that guy and take that!” The “lame ass” security guys didn’t handle it to Axl’s liking, so the Guns N’ Roses frontman took things into his own hands and violently launched himself off the stage at the fan. Then he walked off in a huff, threw down the microphone, and declared, “I’m goin’ home.” Left with no entertainment, fans had little choice but to riot. And so they did.
Amy Winehouse Wasted On Stage
In the wake of Amy’s death, it’s heartbreaking to watch old footage of the talented singer perform towards the end of her career. She was so caught up with drugs and alcohol that moments like these were pretty common during shows. A lot of the time, Amy couldn’t take on the responsibility of performing for a whole set, and many of the shows ended up like this, with Amy half-singing/mumbling along, taking breaks to sit down, calling in her band members to take over, and falling on stage while attempting to dance. A lot of famous musicians like to party, but meltdowns like this one made it obvious that this was a much bigger problem.
Ne-Yo Lets The Tears Flow
Halfway through his set in Manchester in 2009, Ne-Yo burst out in tears before quietly saying into the microphone, “Trust me, I will be back.” When it happened, it was confusing and a little awkward, but he later gave an explanation. Sure, crying because of sinus infection might seem a little petty, but Ne-Yo’s dedication to his fans is something that you have to give him credit for. Here’s what he has to say:
“Basically, I have an issue with not knowing when to say enough is enough, so last night in Manchester, my body said it for me. I got on stage energized and ready to go, even tho for the last 5 days I’ve been dealing with a sinus infection. I paid it no real mind, and kept on going, like I always do. My voice couldn’t take it. From the first song I knew something was wrong. I shoulda stopped there, but I come from a school where no matter what, the show must go on…I’ve never had to stop a show, never dreamed I’d ever have to. So when I had to walk out on that stage and tell 12,000 of the people responsible for making me who I am that I could not perform for them, it literally broke my heart. I cried harder than I have in a very long time with no shame whatsoever…To anyone out there that would like to question my manhood because of this I’ll say this to you: If the one thing you cared about more than anything else in the world was threatened or even taken from you, if you knew that the people you cared for the most you had to disappoint and it was your fault… and this didn’t spark some kind of emotional outbreak within you…then with no shame I’ll say you are truly a stronger man than I.”
Kurt Cobain Gets Weird With The Cameras
Nirvana’s relationship with fame was a complicated one. As much as we all wanted Kurt Cobain to be the rockstar entertainer that fed us good music and enjoyable shows, he seemed to always struggle with his role. While half the time he delivered, the other half he seemed to be fighting it. That angst-ridden punk rocker spirit was always inside of him, and it didn’t get along with the pop culture icon that he had become. It led to a lot of moments like this one. During Brazil’s Hollywood Rock Festival in 1993, Kurt Cobain stopped the show to get some face time with the cameras.
Fiona Apple Calls The World Bullshit
Fiona Apple has made it clear many times: Fiona Apple DGAF. It’s part of the reason we love her. Instead of going up on stage to accept her award on the 1997 MTV VMAs and thanking her fans and all those who helped with her career, Fiona calls the world bullshit, advises fans not to pay attention to what the stars are doing, and says that it’s stupid that she’s in this world. It caused quite a fuss, with many people calling Fiona out for being unprofessional and ungrateful, but really, a lot of what she said had some truth to it, and a lot of people who were sick of seeing the same old “Thanks to all my fans, thanks to my label, thanks to Pepsi for sponsoring my tour” got a glimpse of something with a little more bite to it.
Chris Brown Breaks Down At The BET Awards
At the time of 2010’s BET Awards, Chris Brown was still receiving heavy criticism for the infamous beating of Rihanna. A lot of people were still unwilling to forgive him and unsure if he had shown enough remorse for what he had done. His Larry King interview didn’t do much to help the situation, but during his performance of Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror,” Chris was a little more convincing. For some, it was what they needed to see to be able to move on and finally forgive Chris. For others, it was an obvious attempt to better his public image.
Bad Vibes In Barcelona
During Wavves’ second date of their European tour, Nathan Williams wasn’t getting along well with anyone. During a sloppy soundcheck the audience grew impatient, frontman Nathan Williams and drummer Ryan Ulsh quibbled, and an aura of ugliness hinted at what was about to come. As the set unfolded, Nathan mocked the audience, telling them he was on ecstasy and sarcastically letting the fans know that he wasn’t very excited to be at the Primavera Sound Festival in Spain.
The songs were sloppy, and eventually the bottles started to get thrown. Eventually, even Ryan turned on Nathan, pouring a beer over his head before tossing his drum sticks and walking off stage. Nathan later said that he doesn’t remember playing the set, and took blame for the mess, explaining that he was just too fucked up. You can read the full story at Pitchfork.
Badly Drawn Boy Calls Loudmouthed Fans “Twats”
We saw what happened when Josh Homme gets mad at fans. Badly Drawn Boy’s Damon Gough wasn’t quite as aggressive, but when he was in L.A. and fans started becoming too mouthy for his liking, he reached his breaking point. He called the loud fans “cunts” and “L.A. twats” and told them, “Just fuck off if you don’t want to be here.”
John Mayer’s Long-Winded Apology
It was bad enough that John Mayer did an interview with Playboy in which he talked about his dick. He’s a talented musician, but his story has developed into something that makes it hard for many people to take him seriously as an artist, and penis talk probably wasn’t the move to change that. Even worse though, he said, “My dick is sort of like a white supremacist.” Whereas penis talk is probably not the move, penis talk that involves mention of white supremacy is definitely not the move. Somehow, his apology only seemed to make matters worse.
Instead of simply saying sorry for his failure at an attempt to be funny, Mayer broke things down like he was talking to a psychologist, blaming the comment on his need to be witty and feeling that if he isn’t clever enough, nobody will like him.
Ashlee Simpson Gets Caught Lip-Syncing On SNL
When all else fails, just do a jig. When Ashlee’s lip-syncing went wrong during her performance on SNL, she knew she was caught. Before she even had the mic up to her mouth, her voice started playing through the speakers. She looked confused for a minute, but quickly came up with the perfect solution: just do a dance. Ashlee’s silly jig didn’t do much to remedy the situation. Shrug. As if she couldn’t have lost any more credibility as a musician, this pretty much cemented her spot in the history of most embarrassing on-stage performances.